Little Free Libraries Encourage Communities to Read

With their "Take a book, leave a book," motto, 50,000+ Little Free Libraries encourage community engagement and seek to instill a love of learning in residents. Just check your local ordinances.


Public bookcases are springing up across the U.S. in the form of Little Free Libraries, part of a non-profit organization dedicated to increasing literacy and fostering a love of reading in communities.

The Little Free Libraries house free books that are open to be taken and read by community residents on the honor system that they will return the book or swap it out for a favorite book of their own to donate.

Little Free Libraries Was a 'Small' Project That Went Viral

Wisconsinite Todd Bol didn't plan on creating a successful non-profit that operates around the world. However, what started out as a free library at the end of his driveway as a tribute to his late mother, blossomed into a cultural phenomenon that has taken off since that auspicious day in 2009.

"What touched me to launch the Little Free Library was just how my neighborhood got so excited and thrilled," Bol told USA Today. "They were thrilled by it. It was something they had never seen. What we did is we put them out there across Wisconsin and Minnesota and it took off. It's been in the media. It's delighted people around the world."

Little Free Libraries officially became a non-profit organization in 2012, with a goal of creating 2,510 little libraries around the country. As of last November, that goal was smashed, when the 50,000th Little Free Library was established at a homeless shelter in Santa Ana, California.

The real key of the Little Free Libraries is people say they meet their neighbors through their libraries. It's an extension of their front porch and this is the currency," Bol said.

The non-profit organization's staff of 14 build Little Free Libraries to sell online that run between $225 and $360. With the help of an Impact Fund, they build and donate an average of seven Little Free Libraries to communities in need.

"I believe too often in America right now we're angry and we're spending time and energy about where we disagree. What is wonderful about Little Free Libraries that gives me hope is it brings neighborhoods together," Bol said. "It brings a commonality of improving literacy within the neighborhood and they connect. I see that people are more concerned about connecting and being together and building a strong community than I see dissension."

It's Not All Love When It Comes to Little Free Libraries

In story after story about the non-profit, citizens talk about the power of community and neighborhood engagement brought by erecting a Little Free Library.

A 76-year-old man in California said his library "turned strangers into friends and a sometimes-impersonal neighborhood into a community." He added, "I met more neighbors in the first three weeks [after installing it] than in the previous 30 years."

However, not everyone is on board with offering a free, public book exchange, regardless of whether it's on personal property or not.

In 2014, Spencer Collins, a nine-year-old boy in Leawood, Kansas, was told he would have to remove his Free Little Library from the front of his house, as it violated a town ordinance regarding detached structures.

Collins and his family attended a city council meeting to show support for the library, and encourage leaders to consider its worth to the community.

I want you to allow Little Free Libraries because I love to read,” Collins told the council. “Lots of people in the neighborhood used the library, and the books were always changing. I think it’s good for Leawood.”

A month later, the city authorized a temporary exemption for little libraries, with plans to make a permanent change to city laws.

How to Start Your Own Little Free Library

Anyone is eligible to start a Free Little Library. Libraries or kits can be purchased online, or you can build, decorate and install your own, and simply register it online at LittleFreeLibrary.org.

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